UK police pay ‘lip service’ to protecting women, says father of abuse victim

The father of a woman who died after being choked by her abusive partner has accused police of paying “lip service” to the protection of women and girls and called for a public inquiry into the culture of UK policing.

West Midlands police apologised last month for a number of failings in the case of Suzanne Van Hagen, 34, who suffered months of domestic abuse before she died in February 2013.

Suzanne’s father, Les Van Hagen, said police were called nine times to the flat his daughter shared with her partner, John Worton, who had a history of being abusive to former girlfriends and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

On one occasion, hy het gesê, police officers were called to an attack on Van Hagen but ended up arresting her after finding cannabis belonging to Worton. Worton was not arrested despite the assault, hy het gesê.

West Midlands police have admitted missing several opportunities to protect Van Hagen before she died.

Her father said: “We should never have been put through what we were put through. You trust these people and they don’t do their job properly.”

The police’s handling of violence against women and girls is under new scrutiny after the murder of Sarah Everard by the Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens.

Mr Van Hagen backed calls for a public inquiry into claims of institutional misogyny in UK policing, saying his daughter’s case was “just not taken seriously” by West Midlands police.

A neighbour, who was asked by police to keep a log of suspected abusive incidents at Van Hagen’s flat, made a note of 27 occasions before she was found dead with bruising around her neck.

The force initially told Van Hagen’s family that she had been murdered by Worton who had then killed himself.

But detectives later changed their view and issued a statement saying she died from a suspected drug overdose, after alcohol and stimulant BZP were found in her system.

Officers said that bruising around her neck was the result of a sex game and ruled the cause of death was an accidental drug overdose.

But a police review in 2017 found that the senior investigating officer in the case failed to make proper enquiries about marks to Van Hagen’s neck. The force later admitted that its initial assumption about drugs had led to an “inaccurate narrative” about her death.

In a statement last month, the West Midlands chief constable Dave Thompson apologised for the “serious shortcomings” in the force’s handling of the case, before and after Suzanne’s death.

Hy het gesê: “We deeply regret a number of missed opportunities to investigate Suzanne’s circumstances more widely and to engage with her.

“We could and should have done more to protect Suzanne and her daughter from the abuse they were suffering. To compound the family’s pain, they were let down by a failure to properly investigate Suzanne’s death.”

Mr Van Hagen said on Monday that the family had still not received a written apology from the police, despite the force publishing a video apology verlede maand.

“It’s just lip service," hy het gesê. “They found out they had made big, big, big mistakes in Suzanne’s case about three and a half years ago. It’s taken another three years to get this apology.”

On one occasion, a police family liaison officer told Van Hagen’s younger sister: “Your sister had two legs and she should have used them.”

Wayne Jones, the detective who led the failed investigation into Van Hagen’s death, was sacked two years later for sexually harassing four female colleagues.

The Van Hagens’ family lawyers, Deighton Pierce Glynn, said the case highlighted the “institutional discrimination against women by the police”.

Mr Van Hagen said: “The guy had a criminal record as long as your arm, he was not allowed to see his children because of domestic violence and yet he was allowed to have access to our granddaughter. The police knew, the social services knew, the mental health people knew this – but they just didn’t do anything about it. And then to cap it all, when Suzanne died they didn’t bother to investigate her death.”

After complaints by the family, a West Midlands police professional standards report found: “The police response to the domestic violence suffered by Suzanne Van Hagen was very poor, inadequate, lacked positive action and was not as the force and the public could have reasonably expected. West Midlands police did not take this domestic violence seriously.”

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